Memoirs and Prayer

For the ordinary worshipper, the rewards of a lifetime of faithful praying comes at unpredictable times, scattered through the years, when all at once the liturgy glows with fire.   Herman Wouk, This is My God

There are many reasons I would never write a memoir, good or otherwise, not the least of which is that nobody wants to hear about a skinny sixteen year old driving to a 7-11 in a Phoenix strip mall to buy a Slurpee; it’s uniquely devoid of a dramatic arc.  And many of the best memoirs seem to grow from lives of horrible dysfunction. Two recent reads – Mary Karr’s, The Liars’ Club and Tobias Wolff’s, This Boy’s Life –  follow the young authors as they navigate, barely, the wreckage of profoundly broken families. And yet Karr and Wolff survive, and as a result they are deeply observant, soft to moments of grace and beauty. Maybe that’s what Buechner meant when he preached that, “grace breaks through the fissures of our life.”  Topic for another post, someday.

For now, consider this image from Tobias Wolff. He was, at best, a troubled, wild young boy, flailing about for an anchor. One day, on a whim, he writes to an uncle who lives in France, telling of an abusive stepfather and a dark life in a small town. In response, and to everyone’s surprise, young Tobias is invited to live in France on the following condition: he must allow his uncle to adopt him and, as part of the adoption, Tobias must change his name. In response, he writes this:

But this time I had no need of thought, because the answer was already there. I was my mother’s son. I could not be anyone else’s. When I was younger, and having trouble learning to write, she sat me down at the kitchen table and covered my hand with hers and moved it through the alphabet for several nights running, and then through words and sentences until the motions assumed a life of their own, partly hers and partly mine. I could not, cannot, put pen to paper without having her with me.  Continue reading “Memoirs and Prayer”